by Jonathan Barlow

As a barber, I come across many people in the shop. Of those great customers, WWII vets are among them and have been for all of my professional decade. These are a truly special group of individuals.

During their visits for regular grooming, it becomes an honor for me to be able to simply listen. An interesting thing happens. Their stories are what counts. And more than that, it’s their collective positive attitude and social graces that most impress me from the time they come through the door. Politeness is a common thread with these great, honest and important guys.

They always ask, “Do you have any time for me?” Or, “Looks like I arrived at the right time. How are you today?” — ever the first to be the ones asking the simple, caring question and never meaning to “step on anyone’s toes.” All of my regular defenses shut down in that instant and a true appreciation for each guy takes hold. I like to think it’s a good relationship that forms in its simplicity.

Now, as far as my knowing that any one of these gentlemen has served in the Great War doesn’t come without coaxing. These soldiers, family and business men are truly a humble bunch. They are proud of what the country is made of. Not often do they divulge much in the first meeting. No, not until there has been a period of acquaintance. Let’s say two or three haircut visits. And of course, some are more open than others.

I never pry either — not until I know they will want to tell me something from the past. After all, they own (and earned) their experiences and can release this history as they wish.  If anyone has earned respect these days in this country, it’s a veteran! Also, it is my hope that it’s a relief for them to open up on even the smallest story in memory.

Our exchanges are usually normal in form. Once in a while, I think there can be a sort of trigger that comes up to start something else for the veteran. I can hardly say that he intends on regaling of his memories that day. Surely, they each had a separate and meaningful experience from the terrific responsibilities bestowed upon the whole generation. When the tale comes out, it is usually vivid. One can tell there is a fondness of that time of deep change. I really do enjoy any kind of open dialogue with the Greatest Generation and that selfless era.

Most of the veterans are in their 80s or better. Some of them are your relatives. Some a kind soul you’ll see somewhere in daily life. Others have passed on. For these men and women, I kindly encourage everyone to show any sign of appreciation for their accomplishments. Through talking, you just may learn something too. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the slightest anecdote of the enormous jobs they all held to help us live the life we deserve. Remembrance is the key. Thank you Veterans of Foreign Wars!

JonnyBarberShop wishes to donate a portion of proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project on a regular basis. If you would like to help, there will be a collection container at the shop for any amount to help that cause every month. The shop is located at 13 Bristol Lane in the village of Ellicottville.